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5 Playwriting Principles from Don Zolidis: The Imagination is King or Queen

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Welcome to our series of Playwriting Principles from Don Zolidis! These mini-lessons about Don's process adapting How To Survive Being in a Shakespeare Play will help you create your own work both on screen and on stage.


People don’t watch a play in the same way they watch a movie. This holds true even if the play is on a virtual platform. When a person goes to the movies, they are entering a literal space. If there is supposed to be a spaceship, they want to see impressive special effects and CGI rendering the spaceship literally. If the spaceship doesn’t look cool, they’ll be pulled out of the movie.

The theater is an imaginative space. People come to it with the expectation that things are metaphorical, that special effects are not going to be impressive or even possible. As a playwright, the imagination of the audience is a great resource. It’s the basis on which theatricality is built.



So, with a play, an audience is happy to listen to a “narrator.” They are happy to be transported in and out of places with a simple stool. If I say, “this takes place in a castle in Scotland,” I can create that impression in the audience with a single wall flat. (Or not—I can just tell them they’re in Scotland, and the audience will believe it.) I can have people take a piece of blue fabric and billow it back and forth, and the audience will sea the ocean.

“The theater in an imaginative space.”

— Don Zolidis

Even though we are now looking at a play on a screen, the audience still comes expecting to use their imagination. Again, it’s important for a playwright to USE this, rather than ignore it. Force the audience to work, and it will delight them. If I want someone to pass a ball back and forth across a screen, they can do it. Simply have two copies of the same prop, and the timing of the actors will create the illusion the object is being passed back and forth. The more you do this, the more the audience will enjoy it. Not only that, but calling attention to the fact that the object being passed is not even identical, or might not even resemble each other, creates even more delight in the audience. They love the joke.

So, in adapting this play, I’m looking for as many places as possible to transfer objects, to activate the audience’s imaginative state. The more I can do it, the funnier and more enjoyable the play will be.


More Playwriting Principles from Don Zolidis:

We'll link to them as they're published. Check back weekly!


How to Survive Being in a Shakespeare Play (Virtual Version) – Stage Partners

About the Play:

How to Survive Being in a Shakespeare Play (Virtual Version)
By Don Zolidis

Some day it’s going to happen: You’re going to find yourself on stage, wearing tights, and saying things in iambic pentameter. Face it, you’re in a Shakespeare play, and that means it’s a pretty good bet you’re going to DIE. The Bard is out for blood, but this play is here to stop him! How could Romeo and Juliet survive? Julius Caesar? A nameless soldier in Henry the Fifth? What if King Lear had an emotional support llama and didn’t need to make terrible mistakes? Join us in discovering how a dozen of Shakespeare’s plays could’ve turned out differently! If only they listened...

One-act, 30-60 minutes. 10-50+ actors, gender flexible.


Don Zolidis holds a B.A. in English from Carleton College and an M.F.A. in playwriting from the Actor’s Studio Program at the New School University, where he studied under Romulus Linney. His plays have been seen at numerous theatres around the country, including The Purple Rose Theatre, The Ensemble Studio Theatre, The Phoenix Theatre, the Victory Theatre, Stage West, The Williamstown Theatre, and many others.

Don received the Princess Grace Award for playwriting in 2004 after having twice been a finalist. His plays have received two Edgerton New Play awards and multiple NEA grants among other honors. His plays for young people are among the most-produced in the country and have received more than 12,000 productions, appearing in every state and 66 countries. Don received the Princess Grace Award for playwriting in 2004 after having twice been a finalist. His plays have received two Edgerton New Play awards and multiple NEA grants among other honors. His plays for young people are among the most-produced in the country and have received more than 12,000 productions, appearing in every state and 66 countries.


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